By and large, the NFLis a young man's game. Back in 2017, the Elias Sports Bureau found that the league had the youngest average age of any professional American sport at 26.6 years old. That narrowly edged the NBA (26.8) and NHL (27.4) and easily cleared MLB (29.2)
Careers are short — they average only 3.3 years — and teams are quick to cut bait on veterans with big cap hits. But there are still a few football iron men who keep proving that age is just a number and that they'll leave the game on their own terms when they're good and ready.
Tom Brady's time in New England was up, but he entered the 2020 season with the Buccaneers as the oldest active player in the league, now that Adam Vinatieri remains unsigned. And he's in uncharted territory. No quarterback at his age — he turned 43 in August — has started more than six games or played in more than eight.
Eight players entered 2020 in their age-38 season. But we're here mainly to focus on the players longest in the tooth. Here's a look at the oldest NFL players still active in the league.
Jason Witten, TE, Las Vegas Raiders
Ben Roethlisberger, QB, Pittsburgh Steelers
Jason Peters, OT, Philadelphia Eagles
Andy Lee, P, Arizona Cardinals
Sam Koch, P, Baltimore Ravens
Robbie Gould, K, San Francisco 49ers
Ryan Fitzpatrick, QB, Miami Dolphins
Dustin Colquitt, P, Pittsburgh Steelers
6. Andrew Whitworth
Age: 38 (Born Dec. 12, 1981)
Position: Offensive Tackle
Team: Los Angeles Rams
15th NFL Season
Whitworth spent five years at LSU, where he won a national championship in 2003, meaning that he turned 25 during his rookie season after the Bengals selected him in the second round of the 2006 Draft. But despite the late start to his career, he made a quick impact. He was a starter by Week 2 and has only missed nine games over his 15-year career. Whitworth made his first Pro Bowl at 31 and earned a pair of All-Pro nods in 2015 and '17 as well. He's still seeking his first Super Bowl ring, although he came agonizingly close in Super Bowl LIII against the Patriots.
5. Philip Rivers
Age: 38 (Born Dec. 8, 1981)
Team: Indianapolis Colts
17th NFL Season
Eli Manning may have the rings, but Rivers has the stats and the longevity, as he continues to put up big numbers despite his age. Rivers is the only quarterback to eclipse 4,200 passing yards in each of the last seven years and earned trips to the Pro Bowl at ages 35-37 with the Chargers. Of course, with so many years of experience comes plenty of interceptions. He led the league in INTs in 2014 and '16 and is one of 28 quarterbacks to throw at least 200 career picks. Rivers is well known for his active start streak, which began the 2020 season at 235 games. Eclipsing Brett Favre's record of 321 games might be a stretch, though, that would take at least four more seasons and several deep playoff runs.
4. Don Muhlbach
Age: 39 (Born Aug. 17, 1981)
Position: Long Snappers
Team: Detroit Lions
17th NFL Season
Long snappers don't make many headlines unless they make a massive mistake, but Muhlbach has been one of the league's most consistent specialists since 2004. Muhlbach initially signed as an undrafted free agent with the Ravens but didn't make the team. He only landed on the Lions when they lost incumbent long snapper Jody Littleton to injury but hasn't looked back since. The former Texas A&M Aggie made Pro Bowls in 2012 and '18 and has only missed one game since the 2006 season: a Week 15 game in 2009 in which he was battling a concussion.
3. L.P. Ladouceur
Age: 39 (Born March 13, 1981)
Position: Long Snapper
Team: Dallas Cowboys
16th NFL Season
Edging out Muhlbach on this list by 157 days is another long snapper, Ladouceur. The Montreal native doesn't have nearly as many accomplishments, with a lone Pro Bowl nod in 2014, but he does have an even more impressive starting streak. He hasn't missed a single game since signing with the Cowboys during Week 4 of the 2005 season. Ladouceur is the longest tenured Cowboys currently and has earned nearly $14 million over his 16-year career in Big D.
2. Drew Brees
Age: 41 (Born Jan. 15, 1979)
Team: New Orleans Saints
20th NFL Season
Even way back in the Jurassic era of 2001, there were concerns among NFL cognoscenti that Brees' short stature would be a hindrance. Instead, the Purdue product has spent the last two decades proving that, like age, height is only a number — and so is 75,000, the passing yardage total he recently surpassed. Brees is the NFL career leader in pass completions and passing yards, and he trails only Tom Brady and Peyton Manning in touchdown passes. He's on the bullet train to Canton, but in the meantime, there's one unchecked box that Brees would love to address — becoming the 13th quarterback to win multiple Super Bowl rings.
1. Tom Brady
Age: 43 (Born Aug. 3, 1977)
Team: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
21st NFL Season
To think he was once a doughy, slow-footed, marginal pro prospect staring forlornly at the camera in his NFL Combine photo. Little was expected out of this sixth-round draft pick from Michigan, and given his measurables, could you blame the experts for dismissing him? But here we are — 21 seasons, 17 division titles, and four Super Bowl MVP awards later. Brady stands as arguably the greatest (and inarguably the winningest and most decorated) quarterback in NFL history. Oh, and did we mention that he has six Super Bowl rings?
(Top photo by Kyle Zedaker, courtesy of buccaneers.com)